Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jeremy Leonard of Surf City Racing takes a look at the AWT

Text and photos by Jeremy Leonard

The American Windsurfing Tour kicked off the first of five events with the Santa Cruz Classic on a windy and desolate beach about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. Waddell Creek is a hotspot for windsurfing, kiting and surfing, and the wind usually reaches 20 knots every afternoon. The competition saw wind all over the chart and the waves were generally small, but the good times were big! There was more energy, positively, and pure stoke crammed onto the beach than almost any other sailing event that I’ve attended in the past 10 years.

Perhaps the time span between now and the last time this event was held, 10 to 15 years depending on who you ask, had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the super windsurfing hottie and event organizer Sam Bittner (in the photograph wearing red), whose smile and general aura infiltrated every aspect of the entire event. Between heats, Sam could be seen running up the beach in her gear, on her way to do some official duty.  She’s the epitome of a dedicated competitor that also makes events work; you know the type I’m talking about!

She busted ass to make it all come together, and everyone that I talked to both acknowledged and appreciated the effort that she put in. Competitor from Maui, Vinnie, who goes by one name, explains, “She puts her heart into it and you can tell she really loves the sport. She took the reins and made it happen. This event has been awesome; it’s been a huge success. This is the first stop on the tour, and I can only imagine what the next events are going to be like.” Sam explains her motivation, “I wanted to compete and there were no contests, so I started talking to old event coordinators, and they said, ‘No way we’re going to do it again, but you should go for it.’” And that’s exactly what Sam did! She organized the Pistol River Wave Bash last year, which was a huge success.

Sam was on the sailing team at Western Washington University and she signed up for a windsurfing class and fell in love with it. Sam saw a pic of Maui in a windsurfing mag and thought it was so beautiful that she bought a one-way ticket to The Islands with the goal of becoming a professional windsurfer. She left Washington State with $50 in her pocket and she’s on it! Let’s face it, making money off of sailing in the US is hard business. Why does she like windsurfing so much that she would put all of her chips down on a semi-sketchy career path?  “I’m drawn to it because you have all of the power in your hands. I love going so fast and feeling like I’m flying.” When she arrived in Maui, the sponsors started taking note of her skill immediately and signed her on.

Many of the sailors were from Hawaii, and needless to say, I heard a lot of comments on how freaking cold the water is here in NorCal. Despite the nugget-shrinking, nipple-popping cold, and the blustery, inconsistent conditions, all of the 73 competitors had a great time. There were 7 youth, 7 women and the rest men, competing for the top spots in 5 divisions.

There’s a groundswell of newcomers to the sport as proven by the attendance of this event. One of the young competitors. Twelve-year-old Harley Stone (photo left), grew up windsurfing with his dad. “I love it all, I love the speed and the power that the sail generates, I love that part.” Several of the youth even competed in the Expert and Amateur classes with the adults, in addition to sailing in their youth division; giving the adults a run for their money.

Windsurfing local, Troy Collins hadn’t been on the water in 5 years before this event. Collins used to organize an event in the SF Bay called King of the Bay for kiting and windsurfing in 2001. He attributes the rebirth of the sport to the fact that, “Our kids, those of us that made it big in the 80s, are starting to get into it.” I ask the same question at almost every regatta that I attend, “Why do you think sailing lost so many participants in the late 80s and 90s? As soon as someone can answer that, I think we could find some solutions to growing the sport here in the US.

The event coverage was exemplary, with a small company based out of Germany called Maui Nerd Productions, producing some very well edited video clips after the day’s activities. The event website has competitor bios, pics, video clips of the action and the results were posted instantly. All of the info is there, readily available, in a simple format.  I think that this should be the bare minimum new standard for every medium to large sailing event. The effort goes a long way towards making an event legit…and interesting. The crowd on the bluff was huge as a result from the onslaught of local media coverage, and their top notch website. Go take a look at what they have going, it’s good.

Ingrid Larouche
 I’ve organized a ton of sailing events, and I could just feel that this event was driven by a huge wave of dedicated organizers and volunteers, and sure enough, as I dug in, I found that just about everyone that I talked to had their hands on some part of the event. It had more of a family feel than most of the sailing events that I attend across the country.  I feel that this type of group participation is one of the top elements that will move the sport of sailing in a positive direction and into the future here in the US.

Keep an eye on the American Windsurfing Tour’s upcoming events in Oregon, San Carlos, Baja, Hatteras, and Maui. Take a lesson from these folks and participate in planning, organizing and for chrissake, volunteer to be on the RC every once in a while! Make it happen!

Jeremy Leonard
Surf City Racing

1 comment:

  1. outstanding write-up! Really captured the event as I saw it too!